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The first thing noticed is the white smoke of pecan wood billowing out of the smoker stacks over ‘tailgate city.’ Large men hover over the grill, and the laughter of old friends about old times can be heard from afar.” This is how founder Tommy Walker describes the annual Old Warriors Cookout at Arkansas State University. This is “the place where all the former A-State football greats reunite for the biggest cookout of the year.”
Tommy Walker, my father, played as an offensive lineman at ASU from 1979-1983. His efforts didn’t go unnoticed. In 2013, he was inducted into the ASU Football Hall of Honor, and in 2014, he was named to the ASU All-Centennial Team. Anyone who knows him knows that ASU is a big part of his life and that he’s still a big part of ASU’s football program. His contributions include but aren’t limited to, the development of the Larry Lacewell MVP Award, the Gary Withrow Award and the Old Warrior Cookout, all through the Old Warriors Foundation.
The cookout started in 1991 when a group of former players discussed their desire to reunite former ASU players.
Thus, the Old Warriors Cookout was established on September 21, 1991, with a bucket of chicken in the back of my pickup truck,” Walker said. “Now, the annual cookout averages over 100 former players, coaches, trainers, managers, and their families in attendance.”
Despite the numbers, “no one has ever left hungry. The fact that so many oversized athletes can eat their fill and take leftovers shows how much food we prepare and serve.”
“The menu consists of smoked pork shoulder, smoked pork tenderloin, smoked chicken, BBQ short ribs, bratwurst sausage with the trimmings, coleslaw, BBQ beans, potato salad, potato chips, and anything else someone might bring to cook. There have been occasions where we added crawfish, gumbo, and jambalaya.”
The draw of great BBQ leads to even greater memories. “Former players can come in from out of town and know that they have a cookout tent to come to directly instead of trying to find a cookout that they, initially, weren’t invited to. Many fans come by the tent to see former players in hopes of reuniting with their favorite players and coaches from the past.” Even Arkansas Sports Hall of Famer, Dallas Cowboy recruiter, and Arkansas State coach Larry Lacewell would hardly miss a cookout where he’d let kids try on his Super Bowl ring at the cookout tent.
This brotherhood is what inspired the name of the cookout. “The ‘Old Warrior’ name represents the brotherhood of hard work, dedication, trials, tribulations, discipline, respect for authority, honor, and dignity of Arkansas State Football.” These trials come with the sport of football. “It doesn’t matter the color of your skin, your background, or where you came from. A huge bond is established during those tough times. Then, 3-5 years later, in an instant, it all ends. It is so rewarding to see the guys each year as that brotherly love continues to grow stronger.”
This brotherly love runs deep as the entire cookout is achieved with many hours of volunteer work, donations, and support from the Arkansas State Letterman’s Club, which supplies a 30’ x 40’ tent with tables and chairs, among other things. Walker starts the marinating process the night before, then he and others operate the grills the day of the event, including a large rotisserie grill. “The tent is normally blasting with Old school southern rock music, with a blend of Indian tribal (since many of the former players were ASU Indians before the school’s mascot was changed to the Red Wolves), and funk music, with the Arkansas State Loyalty song added into the mix.”
“There’s hugging, laughing, talking about old times, tough practices, and great victories. Personal 40-yard dash times get faster, and the players get better as the conversations build. Great food, tremendous fellowship, and a great time had by all. This is what our program is all about. Our blood bleeds the scarlet and black!”
This is why the Old Warriors Cookout has been successful for 32 years and will continue to reunite old players for years to come! This year’s cookout will take place on Saturday, October 21, before the Red Wolves take on the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers at 6 p.m.
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